Protesters storm Bahamas parliament
By Athena Damianos, Reuters, Wednesday 24 March 1999, 11:07 pm Eastern Time
NASSAU, Bahamas, March 24 (Reuters) - Hundreds of union workers stormed the Bahamas parliament on Wednesday to protest against privatization of the state-owned telephone company, forcing police to bolt the doors of parliament.
The demonstration in Rawson Square, in the heart of the Bahamian capital, turned ugly when police arrested a labor leader. Some 500 protesters breached police barricades and tried to enter the House of Assembly while lawmakers were in session.
The protest was the result of simmering anger over a host of government decisions on labor issues. At a recent rally, telephone company workers tossed beer and peanuts at Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as he emerged from parliament.
"The government can't hide now. The time is for the government to come out now and solve this problem," said Obie Ferguson, president of the Trade Union Congress.
Three people were arrested during the demonstration, including Charles Rolle, president of the Bahamas Electrical Union.
Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson said one officer was kicked and someone sprayed mace at police.
The government has announced plans to privatize the state-owned Bahamas Telecommunications Corp, but was not yet considering offers. Consultants recommended that the BaTelCo work force be cut from 2,100 employees to fewer than 1,000.
"This privatization has affected the morale of the people and so this government has got to deal with it...The people of the Bahamas are fed up and he (Ingraham) got to know that," one protester said. "Ingraham resign," other workers shouted.
In addition to tensions over the BaTelCo privatization, union demonstrators were angered by a recent dispute between a worker and a state-owned hotel corporation.
The nation's Industrial Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that mediates labor disputes, ruled that a woman who was fired after contracting multiple sclerosis should be compensated. But the Trade Union Congress said the government has refused to honor the ruling.
The Bahamas, a haven for pirates centuries ago and for rum-runners during the U.S. Prohibition era, is a chain of some 700 small islands extending from just off the coast of Florida to about 600 miles (960 km) to the southeast.
Tourism and financial services are mainstays of the economy in the former British colony, home to about 280,000 people.
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